Some Great Books to Add to Your Permaculture & Gardening Bookshelf

I confess, I have been away from updating this blog in a while, and I am here to remedy that. Life, as I am sure many of you know, has a way of happening.  However, in the world of homesteading, sometimes a step back can actually end up as a few steps or even a giant leap forward.

For my friends Lee and Bear Levallee-Cothran, long-time close friends and homesteaders extraordinaire, that setback came a few weeks ago in the form of a fire that burned down their blacksmith’s forge and workshop. The vintage barn was a total loss, as were much of the equipment and raw materials. A GoFundMe was set up, and I am happy to report that they are more than halfway to their $10K goal.

In my earliest conversations with Lee and Bear the day after the tragedy, Bear suggested one of his favorite books to me, “The Resilient Farm and Homestead” by Ben Falk.  Falk took an “exhausted” piece of property and revitalized it with his “Whole Systems Approach.”  He describes himself as a designer, builder, ecologist, tree-tender, and  homesteader.  Falk has a master of arts degree in landscape management  and has taught land design classes at the University of Vermont and advocates working with the lay of the land rather than clearing, bulldozing,  and attempting to force land to submit to our own will.  This book is very in-depth and leaves the reader with a whole lot to think about when applying it to their own situation.  He addresses issues of sustainability, keeping animals and so many topics that we, as homesteaders, address in our daily lives. If you go for any book listed on this blog post, in my opinion, this one should be at the top of your reading, if not the book-buying list.

Since our family’s homestead is located on 15 acres of wooded land in Iowa. Anyone who lives in or has even driven through Iowa knows how much of a rarity that is!  At any rate, I wanted to have a bit more specific information on how I could make the most of our situation. “Farming the Woods” by Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel. The book is filled with lots of charts and images about what trees for wood harvest, fruit and nut trees, medicinal herbs and even mushrooms can thrive in a diverse forest setting. Those of us who can see how quickly environmental changes can happen and who want to do something about it can gain a great deal through this book. Mudge and Gabriel go in-depth on how to include your wooded land as a viable space for growing food and medicinal crops, and how to manage them.

Needless to say, Bear’s suggestion inspired me to go on a bit of a book-buying binge. Not that I mind.  Almost every room in our log home has at least one wall that is lined, floor to ceiling, with books. Part of that comes from my having worked for Waldenbooks for more than 10 years. The other part of that, and perhaps more to the point in a homesteading sense, books make great insulation.

But I digress….

On the subject of permaculture, although perhaps not as profusely illustrated as Mudge and Gabriel’s book, is “Integrated Forest Gardening” by Wayne Wiesman, Daniel Halsey, and Bryce Ruddock.  That said, I did particularly love how the authors went into the footprint of each tree and plant, growing zones, and the quality of the species. This is invaluable in helping plan the layout of a property and how it is situated.  The book also gets into how native animal species interact with the plants and how to plan and maintain those systems while working with nature and not against it.  Their advice can help those of us who want our homesteads to last for decades, if not lifetimes . No matter what your level of experience is, this book has the advantage of giving the perspective of multiple authors – each an experienced horticulturist and homesteader in their own right.

I do understand, however, that everyone’s growing situation is different. Not everyone has a vast amount of land to work with. In fact, they may have nothing more than a strip of soil, a balcony, deck, or window sill, and that’s it. One of the first books that I got was Crops in Pots” by Rachelle Strauss. Whether you want to grow veggies, herbs, flowers, or a bit of each, Strauss goes into how to plan, what containers are best, and the pros and cons of each.  Once you have planted and propagated the seeds, she then explains the care and watering of some of the most popular varieties of each.  Strauss gives some great advice on composting, transplanting,  protecting, and when the best time is to harvest what you grow.  There is also advice on drying and preserving food to keep you through the colder months. 

Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stucky’s The Bountiful Container”  gives detailed instructions on growing food crops, flowers, herbs, fruits, and even edible flowers. The authors of this book also explain the different containers and how to choose the best one for your space and for the type of plants that you intend to grow. Nichols, who is the president of Nichols Garden Nursery, knows her stuff, and as the author of “Basic Herb Cookery”, she warms this particular herbalist’s heart.  Sadly, that herb book is now out of print. Nichols and Stuckey have even included some pretty tasty recipes in the book, too.  Nearly every vegetable or herb discussed in this book also includes a recipe for something using the yield of that plant. (For myself, I am particularly partial to the Lesso Hungarian Pepper Salsa on page 137!)  For those who have never had the joy of trying edible flowers before, there is something so special about enjoying a salad festooned with beautiful flowers that makes it a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

So other than real-life experience, what is the book that started it all for me? I would have to say it was “Back to Basics” by Abigail Gehring. When I bought it, it was one of the big books that Reader’s Digest offered to people back in the 70s. The book has been invaluable for me for a number of reasons over the years and is now available in a number of different formats. Think of it as kind of like a Christmas Catalog for grownups (or even kids) who love the idea of homesteading and doing traditional crafts and skills that our ancestors did, but we may not have been fortunate enough to learn from them. Each section has enough information that you will want to find out more by doing a bit more reading or trying a hands-on approach. I still pour over this book because it’s wonderful to reacquaint oneself with what’s possible when you might have lost your inspiration. It’s worth noting that if you do find one of the old Readers’ Digest copies in a used bookstore, be sure to snap it up if you can. They are highly sought after these days.







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